{\rtf1\ansi\ansicpg1252 {\fonttbl\f0\fnil\fcharset0 ArialMT;} {\colortbl;\red255\green255\blue255;\red51\green51\blue51;\red255\green255\blue255;} \deftab720 \pard\pardeftab720\partightenfactor0 \f0\fs26 \cf2 \cb3 \expnd0\expndtw0\kerning0 \outl0\strokewidth0 \strokec2 }
Connect
To Top

The Passive in English Grammar

Passives are words that express the passive voice. Passives function within verb phrases functioning as predicates. Only one grammatical form can perform the function of passive in English. The one grammatical form that can function as the passive is the verb. Only the verb be, sometimes referred to as the passive be, can function as a passive.

The conjugations of the verb be are as follows:

Base Simple Present Simple Past Present Participle Past Participle
be am, is, are was, were being been

 

Do not confuse the passive be with the progressive be.

Passive Simple Present

The first use of the passive be is within passive simple present constructions. The passive simple present expresses discrete actions or states in the present or near future while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • I am tortured by the thought.
  • She is bothered by the noise.
  • That bone is chewed on by my dog.
  • My flowers are eaten by rabbits.

Passive Simple Past

The second use of the passive be is within passive simple past constructions. The passive simple past expresses discrete, completed, noncontinuous actions or events in the past while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • The painting was stolen.
  • My aunt was left at the altar.
  • We were annoyed by the former neighbors.
  • The packages were delivered yesterday.

Passive Present Perfect

The third use of the passive be is within passive present perfect constructions. The present perfect passive expresses and emphasizes previous actions with present implications that began in the past and continued up to the present while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • All the cookies have been eaten.
  • My homework has been turned in already.
  • Language has been studied for many years.
  • My toes have been broken many times.

Passive Past Perfect

The fourth use of the passive be is within passive past perfect constructions. The past perfect passive expresses previous actions or states with additional past implications that began in the past and continued up to another specific point in the past while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • The vase had just been knocked down when the earthquake happened.
  • Had verbs been studied before this class?
  • The tub had been cleaned before the sink.
  • Because a room had not been booked in advance, we were unable to find a hotel.

Passive Present Progressive

The fifth use of the passive be is within passive present progressive constructions. The present progressive passive expresses ongoing or incomplete actions or states in the present or near future while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • The car is being washed by my husband.
  • Football is not being played this year.
  • We are constantly being bugged by the neighbors.
  • The furniture is being moved this weekend.

Note that the passive be follows the progressive be.

Passive Past Progressive

The sixth use of the passive be is within passive past progressive constructions. The past progressive passive expresses ongoing or incomplete actions or states in the past while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • The vehicles were being washed by my husband.
  • Football was not being played last year.
  • I was constantly being bugged by our neighbor.
  • The furniture was being stored while the house was being painted.

Passive Present Perfect-Progressive

The seventh use of the passive be is within passive present perfect-progressive constructions. The present perfect-progressive passive expresses incomplete or ongoing actions or states with present implications that began in the past and that may or may not continue into the future while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • I have been being yelled at all morning.
  • The toys have been being broken by the children.
  • The pamphlets have been being printed since last night.
  • Too much pollution has been being dumped in the river.

Passive Past Perfect-Progressive

The eighth use of the passive be is within passive past perfect-progressive constructions. The past perfect-progressive passive expresses incomplete or ongoing actions or states that began in the past until a specific point in time while moving an object from an active sentence into the subject position. For example:

  • The child had been being yelled at by her mother yesterday.
  • Many animals had been being killed until the situation was addressed.
  • The cake had been being cake when the kitchen exploded.
  • Your document had been being printed just as the power went out.

The only grammatical form that can function as the passive in the English language is the verb, specifically the verb be, or the passive be.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

More in Grammatical Function

  • Using Adverb Clauses as Adjunct Adverbials

    Notional grammars define adverb clauses as subordinate or dependent clauses that consist of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause and...

    Heather JohnsonJuly 4, 2014
  • Grammatical Function of English Adverb Clauses

    Adverb clauses are defined as subordinate or dependent clauses that consist of a subordinating conjunction followed by a clause and that...

    Heather JohnsonJuly 1, 2014
  • The Progressive in English Grammar

    Progressives are words that express the progressive aspect including the perfect-progressive aspect. Progressives function within verb phrases functioning as predicates. Only...

    Heather JohnsonMay 20, 2014
  • The Verb Phrase Modifier in English Grammar

    Verb phrase modifiers are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that describe a verb phrase. A verb phrase is a phrase...

    Heather JohnsonMay 9, 2014
  • The Noun Clause Modifier in English Grammar

    Noun clause modifiers are defined as words, phrases, and clauses that describe a noun clause. A noun clause is a dependent...

    Heather JohnsonMay 6, 2014
  • The Forms and Functions of Clauses in English

    Clauses are defined as grammatical structures that contain a subject and a predicate. The English language has four forms of clauses:...

    Heather JohnsonApril 25, 2014
  • Using Postpositional Phrases as Disjunct Adverbials

    Traditional grammars notionally define adpositions as words that “link to other words, phrases, and clauses” and that “express spatial or temporal relations.”...

    Heather JohnsonApril 18, 2014
  • Using Postpositional Phrases as Adjunct Adverbials

    Notional grammars define adpositions as words that “link to other words, phrases, and clauses” and that “express spatial or temporal relations.” In...

    Heather JohnsonApril 15, 2014
  • English Interjections

    Interjections as words that “express pain, surprise, anger, pleasure, or some other emotion or sentiment.” Grammatical Form Grammatical Form of English...

    Heather JohnsonApril 4, 2014

Pin It on Pinterest